Toxic Positivity: When Optimism Makes Things Worse

Good Stress vs Bad Stress - Why You Need to Know The Difference
Good Stress vs Bad Stress - Why You Need to Know The Difference

( – Look on the bright side! Turn that frown upside down! Keep Your chin up! This seems to be the standard advice whenever you’re facing something painful in your life. But is it good advice? While staying positive has certain advantages in some situations, brushing off your negative experiences can make the fallout worse. In some cases, it’s better to feel the pain, process it and get past it. And, truth be told, forced optimism can even be toxic.

What Is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity involves the minimization and invalidation of real, negative emotions in order to promote an excessively happy, optimistic state. You can liken it to getting soaked in a downpour while declaring that the sun is shining. There is something very real happening, something that needs your action to remedy. But you cannot remedy the situation — like getting a towel or umbrella — unless you acknowledge that something bad is indeed happening.

In order to get past negative, painful emotions, you must process them. Toxic positivity requires that you suppress your emotions instead — and that can be dangerous. Not only does suppressing your emotions prevent you from moving past the trauma, it has real psychological and physical consequences, such as anxiety, stress and chronic pain.

How to Recognize It

Most of the time, you can recognize toxic positivity by listening to your internal dialogue. If you’re constantly telling yourself that you should get over it, that other people have it worse, that you’re being ridiculous or even if you’re just repeating positive mantras, you’re not allowing yourself to experience the real, raw emotions beneath the surface.

Toxic positivity can also come from external sources, like your family and friends. If they try to minimize your feelings or tell you to suck it up, distance yourself until you can work through your emotions.

What to Do Instead

Emotions are meant to be felt. Accept that. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings and give them momentary power over you. It’s part of being human, and it’s the only way you will get through difficult times. Meditation and journaling can also be great ways to work through your emotions, as can speaking with a trusted individual or a therapist.

By doing these things, you will learn to regulate your emotions, not suppress them. Regulating your emotions involves feeling them in real time, acknowledging them and working through them as necessary.

Forced positivity becomes toxic when you cannot or do not process your negative emotions. Even the mindset that you ALWAYS have to be happy is toxic in itself. Human beings have emotions, even painful ones. Emotions that are difficult to understand and/or navigate must be processed. Be sure to give yourself some time to feel. You’re only human, after all.

~Here’s to Your Healthy Pursuits!

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